The brain has always fascinated me, and in 1998 I stumbled upon a new variant of a protein in Alzheimer’s patients that is astrocyte-specific. I was amazed by the discovery that glia, which are the non-neural cells in the brain, can play such an important role in what was then thought to be a neuronal disorder.
The brain’s immune system
This led me to my current area of study, reactive gliosis. Glial cells include astrocytes, which are the neuronal support cells, and microglia, the immune cells of the brain. Reactive gliosis is the reaction of glial cells to damage, which occurs in many neurological diseases. In some disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, this reaction is very similar to chronic inflammation.
We’re interested in how this chronic inflammation changes the nervous system and contributes to decline in cognition and dementia. To understand this process, we study the molecular and functional changes in glia in different brain diseases in mouse models, human cell models, and in human post-mortem brain tissue.
Brainpower and more, in Utrecht
For me, Utrecht is the perfect place to study the nervous system. In this compact region, we have incredible brain power in both academia and industry, some of the most advanced imaging instrumentation in Europe, and the MIND facility to culture brain organoids. The number of researchers, clinicians, engineers and small companies generates an enthusiasm that is contagious. Our greatest advantage is that we have endless possibilities and can create multi-dimensional projects with a diverse range of techniques, expertise and tools.
To highlight our strengths in Utrecht, we’re holding the first Utrecht Brain Conference on December 12, 2017, and with the goal of increasing our visibility and more regular interactions as a group. The conference was initiated by Crossbeta Biosciences B.V., a biotech company on campus, that is interested, like many other companies here, in improving collaborations and awareness among academic labs and industry. So, we encourage you to register for the conference and explore your possibilities.
Elly Hol, PhD
Professor of Glia Biology of Brain Disease
Brain Center Rudolf Magnus, UMC Utrecht